Do I have to write a cover letter? Many job seekers simply say no

Whom It May Concern: Applicants put a hard stop to those dreaded cover letters.

Many hiring managers say that a strong cover letter is one of the best ways to prove why you’re the right person for the job. However, many job seekers say self-expression is too excruciating and time-consuming to be worth the hassle for a less-than-dreamed role. It’s also just insulting, they argue, since it’s often an algorithm and not a human that sifts through and sorts the applications.

Now, with employers struggling to fill millions of open positions, job seekers are using their influence to say no, which until recently was a must in order to get a decent job.

“People are basically tired of having to do so much to get a job,” said Gianni LaTange, a 27-year-old New Yorker who works in technology. Ms. LaTange calls cover letters an outdated hiring practice and no longer applies for jobs that require her.


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Instead, to land her current position, she used LinkedIn to reach out to employees at companies she wanted to work for. An employee put her in touch with a recruiter after a brief interview, and she eventually got an offer without writing a letter, she said.

Some job seekers say that writing a cover letter is a job in itself, and one that offers little reward for the effort. Before his last job, Devin Miller wrote about 10 cover letters to companies he wanted to work for. Everyone is different, and he wants to signal that he knows what the work will entail, he said. He heard nothing back from anyone. In order to get his current job, he replied to a recruiter who approached him and asked only for a resume, Mr Miller, 33, said.

Mr. Miller was briefly looking for a new IT job in November due to moving to Boston. This time, however, he only applied to vacancies that did not require a cover letter – and received several interviews and an offer.

“It just doesn’t align with my or my colleagues’ current interests in how they want to continue their careers,” said Mr. Miller, who eventually chose to stay with his existing team and work remotely.

Behind all the cover letter hatred lurks a huge divide between job seekers and the employers trying to hire them. A recent ResumeLab survey of 200 hiring managers and recruiters found that 83% of respondents said cover letters are important in making decisions about who to hire, especially when it comes to understanding why the applicant wanted the job, or about to declare a career change or a break. Almost three-quarters said they expected a cover letter even if they hadn’t specifically asked for it.

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“If you don’t take the time to explain yourself, they won’t consider you,” said Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, a career coaching company for college students and 20-year-olds. Young professionals in particular need cover letters to differentiate themselves, she said. It’s about “putting the facts and the basis for what you bring to the table,” she said.

However, according to ResumeLab, which provides advice and online templates for creating resumes and cover letters, only 38% of candidates include cover letters in their applications, even when requested to do so.

Kevin Grossman, president of the Talent Board, a nonprofit hiring and recruitment research group, said many of the employers his organization works with no longer pay attention to cover letters, in part due to automated application screening tools. The exception, he said, is when the hiring volume is lower and recruiters have time.

Another reason cover letters often fail to impress: “Most of them are extremely generic,” says Keith Wolf, managing director of recruitment consultancy Murray Resources, who advises job seekers to tailor them to the specific job posting.

Spending even a few minutes writing an enthusiastic message can reveal a person’s strengths and motivations in a way a resume often can’t, said Sherrod DeGrippo, vice president of a security software company whose department employs about 10 people each quarter adjusts

“Don’t agonize over it — it’s not a make-or-break,” she said. “It’s a help, it’s a bonus.”

Hadassah Williams, 30, who works in administration, has used a similar strategy. She began writing looser notes instead of formal letters when a job posting states that cover letters — which she doesn’t write — are optional. The letter takes about 40 minutes and can be customized to suit the position she’s applying for, she said.

She said she sometimes included these blurbs in the cover letter of job applications or sent them directly to recruiters on LinkedIn.

Julie Fugett’s views on cover letters have evolved throughout her career. As the chief information security officer in higher education, she used this to assess candidates’ attention to detail and their communication skills.

But when she recently applied for a position as vice president at a cybersecurity firm, Ms. Fugett decided not to apply. She’d seen the tech industry push back on the practice on social media, and she didn’t want to appear out of touch.

She got the job – and was pleased that she could skip the cover letter. She has since wondered if cover letters can create bias towards talented candidates who, for example, speak English as a second language.

“I haven’t met a single person, myself included, who enjoys writing a cover letter,” Ms. Fugett said. “I’ve written many more of these, but it’s always a bit painful.”

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